The Federal Government projects to spend N500 billion in fighting the spread of Coronavirus in the country and ensuring that the economy does not collapse under the weight of the scourge, The Nation reports.
It is currently lobbying the leadership of the National Assembly on a proposed executive bill to set up a N500 billion COVID-19 Crisis Intervention Fund.
Finance, Budget and National Planning Minister Zainab Ahmed met with some principal officers of the two chambers yesterday to set the ball rolling.
For its part, the House of Representatives wants to pass a bill to grant electricity consumers a two month waiver as a palliative measure following the economic hardship induced by the pandemic.
Nigeria recorded five new cases yesterday to bring the tally to 214.
This is as experts in the health sector described the move by the federal government to convert the over 300 GeneXpert machines, hitherto, used for the diagnosis of Tuberculosis (TB) and HIV, for coronavirus (COVID-19) testing, as a game-changer.
Mrs Ahmed met with Senate President Ahmad Lawan, House of Representatives Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila, Deputy Senate President Ovie Omo-Agege, House of Reps Deputy Speaker Idris Wase among other principal officers of the NASS.
It was a follow up to the one held penultimate Wednesday between the National Assembly leadership and members of the Presidential Committee which was set up to manage the COVID-19 crisis.
“What we are proposing is an establishment of a N500 billion COVID-19 Crisis Intervention Fund,” the minister said at yesterday’s meeting.
“This Fund that we are proposing, that should be created, will involve mopping up resources from various special accounts that the government as well as the Federation have, to be able to pull this N500 billion.”
Mrs. Ahmed said that in addition to the identified special accounts from where the money will be drawn as loans, the proposed intervention fund would also be sourced from grants being expected and loans from multilateral Institutions.
She said: “Our general view is that this crisis intervention fund is to be utilised to upgrade healthcare facilities as earlier identified.
“The Federal Government also needs to be in a position to improve health care facilities not only in the states but to provide intervention to the states.”
The proposed fund is expected also to take care of special Public Work Programmes being undertaken by the National Directorate of Employment (NDE).
“We know that there will be a need for the parliament to agree and approve the taking of loans from these special accounts and we will be coming back with a proposed bill in that regard that will define what the fund will be used for,” the minister said.
The Senate President said at the meeting that it was in fulfilment of an earlier promise to provide support as the need arises during this time of crisis.
“Governance requires that we work together, so we want to listen to those things that you have on your side and how we can also play our constitutional role in ensuring that Nigerians continue to benefit from governance and how we are able to weather the storm created by COVID-19.
“Going forward, we need to interact more because very fundamental decisions will need be taken, and these decisions can only be said to be constitutionally legal if the legislature gives its stamp of authority for the executive to implement and execute.
“I think coming to us for those loans is critical because we are in an emergency and time is of essence. So, we must work as expeditiously as possible to ensure that we place the request before the National Assembly.
“I think time has come for us to redefine the implementation of the Social Intervention Programme, probably going out to communities to give them N20,000 per person might not be the best way to go. It is still an effort, but I think we need a better approach that will be more efficient.”
Reps coming with bill on free electricity for two months
House of Reps Speaker Gbajabiamila said the chamber was working on a stimulus bill that will grant Nigerians waiver for electricity bill payment for two months.
But he said Nigeria must prepare for the effects of COVID-19 on the economy.
He said the waiver bill was to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on Nigerians and to help in boosting the economy through the informal sector.
Of the bill, he said: “It is one thing that will touch every household. As I said earlier, when we engaged, I discussed with the electricity Distribution Companies (DisCos) that packaged whatever they would require, if the government can give them, for us to allow for two months free electricity for Nigerians, they would be able to guarantee it.
“We have the figures. I think we should look very seriously into that as part of our package for economic stimulus, because stimulus means something that will stimulate the economy. When you are stimulating the economy, most of it will come from the informal sector.
“When you are saving people their electricity and the fact that they now have stable electricity for two months, you are also saving the monies that would go into the payment of those bills at least for two months.”